31. December 2009 · Comments Off on Another Set of Foundations · Categories: General, History, Literary Good Stuff, Old West

Yep, I am starting again, on another book – so here I go, into that kind of giddy and receptive stage, doing research and reading the usual tall stack of relevant books, where the details of plot and character are not quite nailed down yet, where I might at any moment read or hear about a fascinating someone, or tiny detail of an event, which will be that something that will suddenly set a lock on my imagination, whispering seductively ‘this HAS to be in “The Book.”’ (It’s always “The Book,” even though I am actually juggling two of them, set in Texas but fifty years apart.)

The basic characters are there – a selection of minor characters from Adelsverein that I never got a chance to really develop; either whose characters whose stories were either fascinating in themselves because it was hinted at here and there of what they had seen and experienced, or because they were just introduced in the final chapters, and I had already hit a certain word-count and had to simply wrap up the existing narrative, and not take any more time to explore who they were, and what would happen to them.

Margaret is the subject of the earlier book, time-wise, and the one that I am now doing the most research for – Margaret, who was Carl Becker’s sister, political hostess extraordinaire, who survived two husbands, her brothers, and three of her sons, and who knew everyone important in mid-19th century Texas; she’s an imperious survivor, who scared the c**p out of Sam Houston in his prime – among others. As outlined, she comes to Texas in the early 1820s, marries a wandering schoolteacher from Boston, and settles in Gonzales with him – just in time for the War of Independence, the “Come and Take It” fight, and the horrors of the “Runaway Scrape” – and the tomcats-in-a-sack aspects of Republic-era Texas. So, I am studying up first on the days of early settlement, which will mean basically becoming as much of a walking encyclopedia about those aspects, as I already have about Fredericksburg and the Gillespie County German settlers. I’ve even spent the day in Gonzales, on a research trip – I have to say, it’s easier to carry off this sort of thing, having already been a “published Arthur.”

I have to form a kind of mental map of Gonzales, and indeed all of the landscape of that time. How did people talk, dress, how much did they keep in touch, how did they furnish their houses, find their fun, what did they worry about, how closely were the Anglo settlers entwined with the Tejanos: if you wanted a printed book, a length of calico or a bottle of patent medicine, where would you go to get it, and what would you pay for it? How drastically did the changing political situation affect everyday life, from the mid-1820s on? What did people talk about, what were the day-to-day concerns – and most importantly, from my point of view – who were those very local people, those characters that their neighbors talked about, wondered about, worried about? What were they like, can I somehow dredge up a few small personal quirks from the great well of historical memory, and build a believable and interesting character out of those small shreds of verifiable fact?

In one way – the field is wide open to me. I am still not much interested in writing about the Alamo; simply everyone seems to have written about the Alamo, but if I touch on it in this new book, it will be to put it in perspective. And sometimes it seems as if no one who does a novel about early Texas has written about anything else BUT the Alamo. I think to pay more attention to the second and third-rank spear carriers, especially the thirty or so volunteers from Gonzales who answered the plea for reinforcements, sent out just as Santa Anna’s siege began to choke off a garrison too small to chew what they had bitten off. Granted, Jim Bowie has a sort of dark, violent glamor about him. He was perhaps Mexican-Texas’ very own Lord Byron: mad, bad and dangerous to know. William Travis was a hot-tempered pain in the ass, with an elevated sense of his own magnificent destiny – but they were only two, among all the personalities at the time. And there are so many stories – again, like the German settlements, there were so many likely and unlikely heroes and heroines, so many incredible happenings . . . some of them have appeared in fiction, many more not. And no one has ever heard of those who have not, although their stories are at least as gripping.

Among the militia volunteers from Gonzales who went to the Alamo, three of the youngest were teenaged boys. The first husband of my heroine, Margaret, is a schoolteacher, when the war for independence begins. Those boys would have been his pupils, for at least some of the time. Like just about every other fit and able-bodied male settler, he is also a member of the militia, of the company of horse-mounted volunteers. All the others are his friends, neighbors and the parents of his students; Margaret is a friend and neighbor of their wives. But on the day assigned – he is too ill to climb on his horse . . . and so he remains behind.

Something like a fortnight later, the exhausted and traumatized young wife of a Gonzales neighbor stumbles into town, riding on a mule and carrying her toddler daughter in her arms. She is accompanied by two black slaves, and the leader of a troop of scouts, whose men have found her wandering along the road from San Antonio; she is one of a handful of survivor-witnesses. She has been sent as a messenger from General Santa Anna . . .

Oh, I can hardly wait to get started.
But research first . . .

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